Minimalist Work Boots: Top 3 Steel Toe Safety Shoes for Hiking

Minimalist work boots are still relatively new and many traditional boot manufacturers haven’t yet started making a truly minimalist work boot. If you’re looking for a minimalist work boot, you’ll likely go outside the ranks of the big-name work boot companies. 

Updated March 2020 by Maya

minimalist work boots

In a Hurry? The Top Pick

The Belleville Tactical Research Minimalist Combat Boot. Read on to find out why.

minimalist safety shoes

Comparison table

WaterproofSafety ToeFeatures
Belleville Tactical Research
Minimalist Combat Boot
NoSoft
Vibram outsole
AR 670-1 Compliant
Only 2mm toe drop
Lightly lugged sole
View
Caterpillar Brode Hi
Steel Toe Skate Shoe
YesSteelRubber outsole
EH safety rating
Slip- & Oil resistant
Nylon shank
View
Vivobarefoot Tracker
Leather Walking Shoe
YesSoft
Rubber outsole

Slip resistant
Lightly lugged sole
View

Key Features 

Minimalist boots are relatively new; they are manufactured by only a few companies, most of which are not traditional boot manufacturers.  

The big names in minimalist shoes and boots are companies with unusual names like Xero Shoe, Vivobarefoot, and Astral Footwear. These 3 companies were all founded after the turn of the 21st century. Virtually the only company known as a maker of traditional work boots that also has a proven, well-rated minimalist work boot in its line is Caterpillar.

If you are determined to wear a true minimalist work boot, you will need to resign yourself to the fact that RedWing, Carhartt, DieHard, Wolverine, Irish Setter and Carolina simply won’t have what you are looking for. Neither will Airat, Justin, or other makers of cowboy boots for work. 

Some wedge-sole lines from Thorogood, Timberland, and Danner that are lightweight and feature very slight toe-drop are reasonably close to minimalist footwear. They are an option if you need a sturdy boot with a composite toe, a moc toe, or a square toe.

Minimalist shoes and boots are as much about manufacturing practices as they are about product features. 

Read the “About Us” pages on the websites of Vivobarefoot, Xero Shoes, Astral Footwear or other makers of minimalist shoes, and you’ll notice similar verbiage regarding their manufacturing philosophy. They stress concepts like “sustainable manufacturing,” using “vegan” construction materials, and doing the least amount of harm to the environment during the manufacturing process. This philosophy guides the choices of materials used and the processes by which those materials are assembled. 

Minimalist shoes are lightweight and feature minimal padding.

There’s a good reason that minimalist shoes are sometimes called barefoot shoes. Minimalist shoes are designed to give you a walking or running experience that mimics barefoot walking or running. Achieving this means using lightweight, flexible materials that allow your feet maximum range of movement. It also necessitates reducing the amount of padding in the insole and midsole.

The 3 Best Minimalist Work Boots 

Belleville Tactical Research Minimalist Combat Boot

Belleville Tactical Research TR105 Minimalist Combat Boot is designed for servicemen who want a military-compliant combat boot made to be lightweight, responsive, comfortable and still durable. The Mini-Mil Combat Boot is a virtually zero-drop boot with a Vibram sole and a removable footbed. 

PROS

  • Very lightweight 
  • AR 670-1 Compliant
  • Removable footbed

CONS

  • No safety toe
  • Not waterproof
  • Imported 
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Caterpillar Brode Steel Shoe

Caterpillar’s Steel Toe Skate is a hi-top, steel-toe shoe that covers the ankle. With a leather upper and a rubber sole, the Brode Hi is slip resistant and oil resistant. It is also EH rated for electrical safety.

PROS

  • Steel toe
  • EH rated 
  • Removable footbed

CONS

  • Not waterproof 
  • Imported
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Vivobarefoot Men’s Tracker FG M Leather Walking Shoe

The Vivobarefoot Men’s Tracker FG M Leather Walking Shoe is a very comfortable all-around waterproof walking boot with a leather upper and a very grippy rubber outsole. The insulated footbed is removable so that the Tracker can be worn comfortably in all but the hottest weather. The Tracker FG is expensive with an MSRP of $240. 

PROS

  • Great traction
  • Warm, with removable insulated footbed
  • Waterproof

CONS

  • No safety toe
  • Expensive
  • Imported
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Customer Impression

As a group, minimalist boots are less rugged and durable than traditional work boots

Purchasers praise the comfort of all of these work boots. They like being able to really feel their terrain, in a good way. Most people find all 3 of these boots to fit well. However, none of these boots is rugged enough to handle tough tasks that a logger or ironworker would need. Nor are these boots very durable.

The consensus is that the lightweight and soft leather and nylon materials that allow the boots to be flexible and comfortable tend to lessen their durability and make them totally inappropriate for heavy-duty jobs. However, many report them being very comfortable for long stretches of driving and these problems are particularly frustrating in the Vivobarefoot boot because the Tracker boot costs over $200, even on sale. 

Each of the 3 best minimalist boots have particular strengths and weaknesses

Belleville Tactical Research TR105 Minimalist Combat Boot–The Mini-Mil Combat boot gets very good reviews for fit and comfort from most people.  Several reviewers are repeat customers who absolutely love the boot for working and hiking. The biggest issues are with the heel cup, which several purchasers found horribly uncomfortable. Several also say that the boot runs very small.

Caterpillar’s Brode Steel Shoe–Purchasers like the extra protection afforded by the hi-top and the steel toe of the Brode. Most find it very comfortable. Customers who were dissatisfied complained that the boot wasn’t durable and that it has a “weird” fit. 

Vivobarefoot Men’s Tracker FG M Leather Walking Shoe–The Tracker is very comfortable and has excellent traction. The waterproof lining works well–until it doesn’t. Some customers feel that the toe box goes beyond roomy to boxy. 

Conclusion

All of the top 3 minimalist work boots provide the feel and lightweight comfort you expect from a minimalist shoe. They all get good ratings for comfort.  As a group, they lack the durability and value most people expect for the price tags that these boots have. 

The “best-of-the-best” commendation goes to the Belleville Tactical Research TR105 Minimalist Combat Boot. It meets the tactical requirements for official military wear, but is also good for work, hiking, and hunting. The Brode Steel Skate Shoe is an excellent choice if you’re in a tight budget or need a boot with a steel toe.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I have a wide foot. Are there good options for people who need minimalist shoes for wide feet?

Minimalist shoes are configured to be as close to being barefoot as possible. To achieve this, minimalist shoes limit the amount of fabric and cushioning that would prevent your foot from having its full range of motion. They also fit snugly in order to prevent your foot from slipping in the shoe and perhaps causing you to lose your balance and get injured

When minimalist shoes first hit the market, most were designed for people whose feet were average width. Folks with wide feet found it difficult to locate a minimalist shoe that didn’t squeeze their toes uncomfortably. Thankfully, that has changed.

Several companies now provide a range of minimalist shoes with wide toe boxes

…to accommodate a wide foot and are perfect minimalist shoes for wide feet.

Here are a few of the dozens of well-rated minimalist shoes that might be good choices if you have a wide foot. However people with flat feet will avoid this type of shoe as there is not much space for an overpronation restricting insert.

People who suffer with foot fatigue tend to navigate towards boots with anti shock properties but a small number say that going the opposite way – barefoot and natural minimalist shoes – have alleviated their sore feet aches and pains. However they do not work or spend many hours on hard unforgiving surfaces.

WHITIN Men’s Minimalist Trail Runner with Wide Toe Box--This 5-finger trail running shoe is sturdy enough to handle rough terrain, yet wide enough in the toe box to allow your toes to spread enough to maximize comfort and traction.

Merrell Men’s Trail Glove 4 Runner. This is a minimalist trail running shoe. It has a traditional sneaker styling. The narrow design allows a snug fit. It magically also provides a roomy toe box. 

Vivobarefoot Men’s Ra Ii-m. This minimalist black leather oxford looks good enough to wear in nearly all occasions. The breathable, yet waterproof, leather accommodates a wide foot comfortably.

Xero Shoes Xcursion – Minimalist Hiking Boot has a wide toe box, is waterproof and lightweight and is also vegan friendly.

Which companies make some of the best minimalist hiking boots?

At this point, a few companies provide the majority of the best minimalist hiking boots. 

Astral Footwear— Started in 2002, Astral is known as a maker of zero-drop, minimalist shoes produced in a manner that is kind to nature. Several of their hiking boots rate very well. The Astral Men’s TR1 Junction Minimalist Hiking Shoe has a lugged rubber sole that is designed to provide good traction on rough, rugged terrain.  Their TR1 Mesh Minimalist Hiking Shoe is slightly lighter and is designed for sure footing and comfort over less rugged trails. 

Vivobarefoot is another company known as a manufacturer of minimalist shoes.They focus on sustainable shoe manufacturing practices. The Vivobarefoot Men’s Tracker Snow Sg Boot is insulated and waterproof for winter weather, and is strong enough to handle rugged landscape. Their Men’s Magna Trail Multi-Terrain Hiking Shoe is vegan friendly and suitable for lots of trails.

Xero Shoes-Xero Shoes is just turning 10 years old. It focuses on extremely minimalist shoes that are as close to being barefoot as possible. The Xcursion – Men’s Waterproof Minimalist Lightweight Hiking Boot is vegan friendly and features a wide toe box. The TerraFlex – Men’s Trail Running and Hiking Shoe gives you the choice of running or hiking the trail.

Merrell Shoes–Although positioned as a manufacturer of traditional hiking shoes and apparel, Merrell Shoes has added several minimalist men’s and women’s shoes to their product line. And most of their product offerings are trail running shoes that would also permit you to hike comfortably. The Men’s Vapor Glove 2 Trail Running Shoe and the Trail Glove 4 Shield both fit this category.

Can you suggest any minimalist steel toe work boots?

Walkchic Men’s Work Steel Toe Shoes –Although not advertised as minimalist boots per se, these steel toe work boots are, nonetheless, very lightweight and breathable. They have very little drop and they feature a puncture-resistant outsole, which is rare in minimalist shoes, and are sturdy enough for construction workers and factory foremen who walk all day.

Lamonyer Comfortable Shoes for Men Slip on Steel Toe Work Shoes—These comfortable pull-on “sneakers” feature minimalist styling AND a steel toe; They are very lightweight and stylish, and provide non-slip traction.

Houshelp Men’s Steel Toe Shoes Safety Work Sneakers Outdoor--These are lightweight minimalist steel toe work boots. The mesh fabric is breathable. These shoes are not designed for heavy-duty jobs like welding, but they are great for industrial situations that require a steel toe.

Are all minimalist shoes for everyday wear basically running shoes?

Not at all: while some of the best minimalist shoes for everyday wear are running shoes, there are also some 5-finger shoes, some lace-up casual boots, and some sandals that are great for everyday wear. Here are some options In each category.

Five-finger shoes are probably the quintessential minimalist shoe. Most of these, in both men’s and women’s styles, are running or cross-training shoes. Depending upon your daily schedule, this type of shoe may or may not be a good choice for you.  They have a definite casual, even sporty, look that isn’t appreciated in some work environments. But if your workplace is an office that presents no regular safety hazards, then you may really enjoy the Vibram Men’s KSO EVO Cross Training Shoe or the WHITIN Men’s Minimalist Trail Runner Shoe.

If you live in a location with warm weather all year…

…you’ll find some great minimalist sandals available for everyday wear. The KEEN Men’s Clearwater CNX Sandal looks like a classic Keen washable sandal, except that it is sleeker and more lightweight. A truly barefoot sandal, the Xero Shoes Z-Trek is extremely lightweight, with a thin rubber sole and zero-drop comfort and mobility.

Lace-up shoes that are minimalist in design, but look more like traditional casual, everyday shoes are getting easier to find. The Vivobarefoot Men’s Ra Ii-m is a black oxford made of waterproof leather. Their Gobi II Men’s Classic Desert Boot is a short leather lace-up boot that is stylish and neat enough for business/casual settings. Astral’s Men’s Porter Minimalist Boat Shoes combine a rubber sole and a polyester upper in a stylish boat shoe good for everyday wear, even in wet weather

And if you are you looking for a minimalist sneaker to wear every day, you’ll want to consider the NIKE Men’s Free RN Running Shoe, the Merrell Men’s Vapor Glove 3 Luna Leather Sneaker or the Onitsuka Tiger Unisex Ultimate 81 Shoes 1183A012. All of these shoes provide non-slip soles and durable comfort.

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